Building Beyond the Holiday Season

As the craziness of the holiday seasons engulfs our reality it is so easy for us to become caught up in the business of it all and in so doing in fact nullify it all. Despite your background or religious preference December has become a time of holiday and celebrating family. We organise our lives around trips to visit long lost family members – be it granny up the road or a cousin in another province – as well as travelling to distant corners of the world. We may not even have to travel far but “getting together” and connecting with each other is what is on all our minds. We race around purchasing gifts, arranging menus, organising food and entertainment. We become so caught up in organising this amazing family get together that we do in fact often miss the family in it all.

This may simply outplay in that as we are finally all gathered that we are in fact all too tired to actually enjoy each other’s company or with all the planning and scheming and imagining, the day doesn’t go quite as we expected so disappointment, hurt and resentment knocks loud at our door – leaving a bitter taste in our lives. These can however be avoided by simply resting well and choosing to keep our minds on the reality that we are all human and that things will therefore not usually play out as we imagined. So keeping expectations real can allow us to experience these family times as something to treasure – even if they are not perfect.

A deeper concern however, is that in the business of this all we totally miss each other – especially our little people. We are rushing in and out to shops, baking cooking, organising outings and playdates and the holidays are bustling and happening all around us. We are all together – in the same house – most of the time, and yet do we really stop and truly see one another.

In his play Our Town, first performed in 1938 Thornton Wilder perfectly captures this in a scene when Emily asks to return from her grave to visit her 12th Birthday. She is then seen observing the day from the future. Her words capture so much that we too often don’t wish to acknowledge:

“Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me….. I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another….. I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed.”

How easily the days and years slip by. How easily it is to provide our children with a beautiful home, amazing food, friends, entertainment and toys beyond their wildest dreams but if we stopped and asked them what they truly desired more than anything else – they would say they would give it all up for your time. All our children – and aunty and granny for that matter – really want from us is our love and attention. They want to know that they are more important than the food being presented just right or the table being laid perfectly. They want to be a part of our lives. They want us to stop running and take the time to push them on the swing or sit on the floor and draw with them. To include them in our shopping and let them help make an imperfect pudding or set the table with us – including the name tags that they have lovingly scrawled out for each guest.

So as we bustle about creating the perfect day don’t forget about the people that are all a part of your reality. People that love you dearly and wish for nothing more than to have you share that love with them. The challenge here is to take a moment in this craziness to spend a quiet moment with each of our special little people. Bake some biscuits with your daughter or make a puzzle together. Single out one of your children to cuddle up on the bed with to watch a movie or take a slow walk around the neighbourhood or simply take the time to stop and listen to what they are trying to say to you – as Sally Clarkson experienced – you may be suitably surprised by what you hear them say.

As much as we try to convince ourselves otherwise it’s not the perfect roast but rather these little intimate moments that our children will remember. And above all its these times that weave into creating relationship with each of them something that will become the fibre who you are as a family. Something they can hold in their hearts as they grow – knowing my mom and dad loved and valued me more and beyond their “to do” list. So let’s be challenged this holiday to not become so caught up in organising family time that we miss the Family in it altogether.

 

 

St Nicholas Celebration

Many years ago when our first son celebrated his first Christmas something just didn’t sit right with us regarding the whole Santa Clause – Father Christmas experience. This was strange as these childhood fantasies were the structure upon which my childhood was build. That aside… we chose a different route for our growing family.

We are in a difficult situation as the rest of the cousins believe in Father Christmas, sleigh , reindeer and elves overseeing their annual behaviour… Therefore in a bid to maintain family relationships and not foster pride in our children (explaining to them that other people choose to celebrate St Nicholas day on Christmas day) we chose to create and celebrate our own St Nicholas day.  This began with us making a pope’s hat – which is looking a bit weathered after 11 years of use. Then on the 6 December, after dinner we sit the children down and using very basic pictures off clipart we tell the wonderful story of how a real pope called Saint Nicholas helped pay for 3 girls to get married, by throwing gold down the chimney into their stockings. During the story Dad leaves the room and as I end the story he reappears in the hat and a big jacket or bathrobe. How funny how the children don’t recognise him! Only at the age of 6 does one of them say, “but it’s dad!” Only for us to hear another whisper, “He just has Dad’s shoes on!” St Nicolas then greets the children and says he’s so glad to hear us telling of how he gave and he then gives each child a tiny gift. This may even be just a small bag of sweets – the one year they got a tub of ice-cream to share with the family. He then reminds them about God and how he gave Jesus and how we must now prepare our hearts to give during the Christmas season.

After a quick photo shoot he leaves and the children head off to bed. This is the beginning of our time of thinking of others. This is out played in that each child is to personally make gifts for other family members. Another activity is that when we put up the nativity set Jesus manger is empty and we have a small tub of straw. Every time someone helps another or silently serves someone they get to put a piece of straw in the manger. It’s the hope that on Christmas morning there will be a soft bed for Jesus to lie in.

St Nicholas day has become a much loved family celebration that lasts maybe 45 minutes and yet speaks volumes to not only the children, but our hearts too.

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Christmas – Our Way

Christmas has always been an interesting time in our home. And in the homeschool circles you come across many families who no longer celebrate this holiday. I have always been so grateful that during our first years of marriage we lived in a town far from family so that we could work through some tough thought processes and decisions. On our return to living amongst the family we had managed to establish our own traditions, beliefs and who we were.

The most obvious of these was Christmas. We came to realise that this season has so many roots and evokes huge emotion within people. We could spend hours discussing the different world views and the pros and cons to various views. Instead I’ll simply share how we as a family spend this special season. We have spent a great deal of time learning about the different Jewish festivals and how these link to Christianity. From this study we have begun to celebrate Hanukkah which celebrates the miracle of light. This we find is an awesome introduction to Christmas as it keeps us focused on Jesus, the Light of the world. The 6 December then finds us celebrating St Nicolas Day. This we found fundamental as all the cousins have father Christmas arrive on Christmas day and whilst we chose to move away from this we found it important to honour them and not teach our children to be filled with pride by saying “we right and they are wrong,” – we simply do things differently. So by us celebrating a ST Nicolas day we could simply explain they celebrate St Nicolas day on Christmas day.

The the decision as to whether we should celebrate Christmas at all… After much deliberation we decided to continue celebrating it, for a number of reasons. Firstly the rest of our family does – many of whom are not saved so we saw this as an excellent chance to witness to them. We found it was an entire month of celebrating our savior and focusing on him. Christ himself recognised and celebrated Hanukkah which was not a God ordained holiday but rather a man made one. Therefore if our hearts are right we too are free to celebrate man made holidays and traditions.

So as a family Christmas is an exciting, much anticipated time of year. It does require much preparation and heart searching but that is what makes this time so special to us all.

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Christmas Hope

Every year, for Christmas  we choose a theme and colour scheme for the season. This year it was Hope with the colours gold and white. What a special and beautiful Christmas it turned out to be.

Throughout December we have spoken about Hope an how we need to have Hope in Jesus alone as it is only through Him that we will have true joy and peace. We decorated the lounge in line with the theme using candles and butterflies. It so beautifully reflected the theme and the message to our children.

On Christmas morning we were unable to attend church so instead I sewed little paper pockets and placed butterflies with Bible verses, and a chocolate, inside each one.

For our Bible time we then read through the verses and stuck them upon a gold cross. This was a very special time and helped us focus upon Jesus and the hope we have in him before we opened our gifts.

Having a theme is such a simple idea and yet it helps keep us focused on a different aspect of God every year and makes each year that little bit extra special.

Here are some of the verses we used:

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Titus 3:5-7 He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Romans 5:3-5 We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 8:24-25 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 12:12 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Psalm 39:7 “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

Psalm 31:24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

Psalm 147:11 The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Lamentations 3:24
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him / hope in him”

1 Corinthians 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Homemade Gifts, Wrapping and Tags

It’s one thing wanting to give gifts but another being able to afford it. It’s our heart to teach our children to give, however with five of them this can often be hard as it all adds up so quickly! For this reason for Christmas and birthdays we make our own wrapping paper, cards / tags and when possible gifts.

Wrapping Paper

This Christmas was made very simple wrapping paper in that we simply hauled out some large pieces of brown paper we had, handed the kids some paint and brushes and set them to work – hint don’t use poster or powder paint as this tends to rub off and make a HUGE mess. I was very surprised how some children painted paterns, others random smudges and others detailed pictures.

Eventually Maiden #3 figured out that one could fill a spoon with paint and flick it across the page. This was a huge hit with every one and I was very grateful that we were wearing painting clothes and that we were in the art room so blue paint on the wall wasn’t too much of a problem 🙂

By the end of an hour we had enough paper for all our gifts and so many different wrappings to wrap with.

And then before we all run away it is SO important for everyone to learn that cleaning up is part of the “fun.”

Gift Tags

We made the most simple gift tags this year. I simply cut white card into small squares with fancey scissors. The children then stamped yellow stars in the middle.

Once the stars were dry we added some gold glitter to their centers.

You can then use them as they are or stick them to a coloured back ground.

 

For gifts we made gingerbread biscuits, calendars and stress balls. All were so appreciated and enjoyed by their recipients and so easy on the pocket too!

Stress Balls

This year for Christmas gifts I allowed each child to choose one idea that they could then make for everyone they wanted to give gifts to. Knight #4 chose the wonderful idea, that we found on the se7en website, to make stress balls.

These were so easy and fun to make and everyone loved them.

It started by us making some playdough.

We then cut the tops off some ballons, filled one with play dough and then pulled 2 more over this one to create a sealed ball.

Hint we found it better to cut off the whole neck as it pulled better like that. We also tried cutting holes in the top ball so the underlayer was more see visable. This didn’t work as well as planned as the playdough crept out some. I think next time we’ll leave the holes or add a forth layer with holes in it.

He then took great care to use our home made wrapping paper and tags to wrap everything himself. What a proud Mommy I am 🙂

Great Gifts

As we settle into a new year I thought I’d just take a few moments to re-look at some of the great gifts we either received, gave or made over the Christmas season. Many of these were inexpensive and easy to make and yet were so much fun and were loved by all.

We made our own tags and wrapping paper and then…..

Knight #1 made everyone calendars with personalized photos for each person. we then laminated these and they were so well received by every one.

Knight #2 made stress balls and these were a great hit.

The twins made Ginger bread flowers for the girls and gingerbread men for the boys.

Maiden#1 made an assortment of gifts. Including notebooks and a fantastic biscuit recipe book for me! Yum-yum!!!

Gifts that our children recieved that were a great hit were a hairdryer for Maiden #1 (and her own tube of toothpaste – so she doesn’t need to share with the other little people) The boys were over joyed with their FIFA computer game. Knight #1 was thrilled with a bird call CD whilst Knight #2 is enjoying a soccer activity book. The twins are loving their Sylvanian families toys.

But the best gift by far was from their aunt huge piece of plastic, some dish-washing liquid and the garden hose!

Unexpected Christmas Eve Magic

After a full month of Christmas preparations it was finally time to sit down and begin our annual Christmas Eve traditions. As we had indulged in a huge braai over lunch time we had decided to forfeit out traditional Christmas dinner for snacks instead. The evening was to run that we’d begin by lighting our Hanukkah candles and reciting the blessings; this would be followed by acting out the Christmas story. We would then have our snacks before having a time of Christmas carols. Knight#1 had spent the past 3 weeks typing out carols to make us each a carol book and he’d spent every spare minute practicing them on his violin so we were all looking forward to this part of the evening. We were then to have pudding before trying to herd 5 very excited little people into bed.

Well that was the plan….

Just as we lit our first candle and begun reciting the first blessing the house was filled with the most awful, painful cry. On jumping up Lord Dad and Grandpa discovered our Labrador puppy had fallen into a full convulsion. As they tried to help it onto a softer surface it began foaming at the mouth and then turned on them. At that moment Lady Mom arrived to witness our adorable pup turn into a ferocious animal that wanted to only attack. The puppy then took off running around the garden barking hysterically.

Having worked in a rabies laboratory Lord Dad had seen movies of rabid animals and Christmas Eve or not he’d take no chances. As we had all played with and been nipped and scratched by Molly in the past week he insisted we were all to be inoculated against rabies. Knowing all the vets were closed we managed to coax the puppy into an outside room. We then quickly made brown bread and peanut butter sandwiches and herded the entire family into the car to try find some rabies inoculations for the family.

Prior to leaving we’d called various hospitals to only discover each private hospital only kept one or two vaccines and we’d need to pay at least R800 per person to walk into the emergency room and then R500 per injection. The rabies course also runs over 4 injections so we were looking at about R2800 per person! With this all in mind we headed off to our local government hospital.

What a joke.

Our adventure began with a clerk who could not spell and kept mixing our names up. I offered to help fill in the basic details but he said he had to fill it all in. An hour later we had our files and now had to speak to a nurse – before we saw a doctor who would do the injections – she was not amused with the situation and simply told us, “Do you realise how busy I am and how many forms I’m going to have to fill in?” She then disappeared and arrived 15 minutes later with another sister. She explained to us that as it was Christmas Eve and they would deal with the stabbed, wounded, accident cases and dying first we would not be seen to for at least another 6 hours or so! Having already been there for 3 hours we sat in the car park in desperation and phoned anyone and everyone we thought could help. We eventually discovered another small government clinic open 24/7, which were referring all their patients to the hospital and were therefore pretty much empty. We quickly rushed across to them. An hour later we had all had our injections and were heading home.

During all this time the children had dozed in and out of sleep. As we headed home now the clock struck midnight and it was officially Christmas morning. Amazingly enough no one was upset or moaning instead as the clock struck the older children burst into song – rocking the neighbourhood with Joy to the World. As we negotiated the thickest mist I’ve ever driven in we crept home to our Christmas Eve – now forever changed.

Not sure whether we should have more peanut butter sarmies or tuck kids straight into bed we gingerly opened the door and put on the kettle. Then the most amazing evening began to take place. The children headed to the supper table and began eating the Christmas treats, another began to play the piano and while others collapsed on the couch and began to nibble on some chips. The next hour was spent in a surreal dream of laughter, song, jokes and ice-cream. The children then drifted off to bed whilst we finished wrapping gifts and ensuring everything was ready for when they woke.

Yes, Christmas day was quite a blur but no one fought or moaned. Something special and magical had happened the night before and in the words of Knight#1, “Our adventure last night made this my best Christmas ever.” Well let me add, “It was my best too, my boy, mine too!”

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Postscript – Looks like the puppy may have simply had a convulsion and is still in isolation and under observation to determine if it is rabies though it is looking more like it was fit.

Christmas Decorations

As we spent this year celebrating Christ as our king we decorated our table in red and gold. To do this we made crackers, serviette holders and angels as part of our Christmas decorations. I’d say above all the serviette holders were easiest to make and yet so effective.

All you need is some gold cardboard, scissors, glue, tape and sequins.

We simple cut some gold card with zig-zag shapes and then cut the strips in half.

Using wood/cold glue, we added 3 red and gold sequins to the strip.

Lastly we taped the strip shut to make the ring and added the serviettes.

We then make a thinner and longer crown to add to the top of our Christmas cake. It was decided that we’d simply make a small Christmas cake this year, so we cooked it in a bowl that looked a bit like a crown. We then iced it with royal icing and added gold and red balls to it, with the odd red icing flower. The crown was the final touch. The cake was so simple yet so effective in summarizing our advent celebration of Christ our King.

As a final gesture and touch we added little gold gift bags that was personally tagged and had a chocolate and homemade magnet inside – each magnet had a Bible verse on it celebrating Christ our King.

Although the decorations were simple and easy to make the theme and colour scheme meant a lot to the children and not only made it memorable but helped them remember why exactly we spent a day celebrating a baby born 2000 years ago birth today.

Christ The King

Every year before Christmas we pray about our Christmas theme.  The one year we had the colours yellow and white for Jesus the light, last year we focused on white for peace and this year God gave us the colours red and gold. So we made red and gold angels, crackers and serviette holders.

The red representing the blood that resulted in the babe born in Bethlehem becoming our eternal king, which was reflected in the gold. Through Bible readings and prayer with the children we realised that a baby born in a foreign land had not significance to us – let alone a baby born 2000 years ago having any eternal significance to us. It is purely through this baby’s life, death, resurrection and kingship that we can remember, rejoice and celebrate this babe’s birth.

We spent time discussing how we would treat a king. What gifts we would bring and the time we’d spend trying to see his face. We then looked at what gifts our king would like – “a broken and contrite heart.” We also discussed how much time we spend searching Our King’s face.

Later we spent time asking ourselves what a King would expect from his subjects – he’s want loyalty, respect, trust, love, submission, honesty and such. What attitudes do we bring before our king?

This time has been so special and the children have learned so many valuable life lessons. We have all developed a deeper love for our heavenly king. As we set our table with red and gold, placed the crown on our crown Christmas cake, put up the red and gold balloons and the crown serviette holders we were constantly reminded that the babe’s birth we celebrated is today sitting upon His kingly throne. What a special blessed time we’ve had together.

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